Bohemian Splendor in Cobble Hill

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ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS ABOUT BLOGGING is making new friends. Lula and I met only a few months ago, when she stumbled upon my blog and contacted me. We soon discovered we are neighbors in two places. She has an adorable cottage a few blocks from mine in Springs (East Hampton), N.Y., as well as a parlor floor she’s owned for 16 years in a classic 1850s Italianate brownstone in Brooklyn, top and below, virtually around the corner from where I lived for two decades (though we had never run into each other).

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She lives in a state of Bohemian splendor, presently suspended in mid-renovation. Having peeled off old wallpaper, the walls have a Venetian plaster look but await further plaster and paint. The ceiling has been stabilized in parts where it was falling down. There are nearly intact plaster cornice moldings all the way around, with what Lula calls her ‘Shakespearen troupe’ of faces. A new kitchen is in the cards, and there’s a potential terrace at the back which is just tar paper, no railings, at the moment.

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Most of the elaborate plaster cornice is in great shape, above. Other parts, below, not so much.

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Lula is grappling with the questions endemic to living on the parlor floor of a brownstone.

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  • Where to put the kitchen so it’s functional but unobtrusive? Right now it’s in the middle and will probably remain there for plumbing reasons, but in what configuration?
  • How to create a bedroom with privacy? She’s got a small one in the former hall space at the back, and uses the back parlor as a sort of den/guest room, above — but could it be better used as a master bedroom or dining room (currently in the kitchen area)?
  • And what about those magnificent original wood doors and moldings? Were they painted back in the day (she thinks so) and should they be painted again, or refinished and stained? Should perhaps the doors be left wood and just the moldings painted?

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All that remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the place has great cozy charm. With all that original detail, antiques acquired piecemeal over the years, an overstuffed sofa, plants on the window sills, and faded Oriental rugs, it feels much like being back in the Victorian era, for real.

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After my first-ever visit to Lula’s apartment, we went and checked out the new Fork & Pencil warehouse on Bergen Street, above, a few-months-old, crammed-full, well-vetted consignment store — a spin-off of the smaller storefront on Court Street — whose proceeds go to non-profit conservation, arts, and other organizations. It’s more Lula’s kind of place than mine, filled with traditional antiques, but more to the point, I don’t need anything at the moment. Browsing there is purely a theoretical exercise for me. I admire, appreciate, and move on. Don’t need anything, thanks!

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We had a civilized late lunch nearby at Broken English, the sort of self-conscious industrial chic space one used to expect only in Manhattan. I’m glad it’s come to Brooklyn, because my rigatoni with marinara and basil was scrumptious, and the salad, bread, and olive oil were tops. You can tell the quality of a restaurant by its bread and salad, I once read, and I think that’s on the mark. Broken English is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ignore the snarky online reviews from amateur critics and give it a try. It’s a welcome addition to the nabe, in my book.

Feng Shui Problem Resolved

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MY SISTER ASKED ME A COGENT QUESTION THIS EVENING: “So how did you solve your feng shui problem in the bedroom?” Oh, that! I guess I owe her, and y’all, an explanation.

Taking to heart the sage advice of MazeDancer, Katy Allgeyer, and others on this blog, I moved the bed yet again, so it’s back in the niche, below, and out from under the oppressive ceiling beam. Truth to tell, the night before I moved the bed, I slept on the living room couch. I actually felt the pressure of the beam bearing down on my body and simply couldn’t spend another night there. Maybe it was suggestion, maybe imagination, maybe fear of forces unknown….at any rate, since I moved the bed, I’ve slept like an effing log.

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I’ve added a white wool shag rug from IKEA and window blinds from Pearl River. With the new credenza for my office supplies, and the velvet-upholstered chair, top, I won a couple of years ago as a door prize at a Metropolitan Home magazine party, the room is getting quite comfortable. Especially when compared to the stark “before” of two scant months ago, below.

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Feng Shui Nightmare in a Brownstone Bedroom

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THE BEDROOM IN MY PROSPECT HEIGHTS PIED-A-TERRE is finally coming together. Last week I committed myself to a 1960s platform credenza, above, for storing my family’s photo archive, a more attractive repository than the half-dozen plastic bins in which our photos and personal memorabilia had been sitting (see below – yikes).

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After much shopping around, I bought the credenza at Re-Pop near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. My penultimate stop was Baxter & Liebchen in DUMBO, a warehouse specializing in designer-name Scandinavian modern, mostly teak. Gorgeous stuff, but I didn’t want to spend four figures. So I ended up back at Re-Pop, where I chose a 78″ long piece by the American furniture company Kroehler, with a geometric raised pattern on the front, paying just under $500. It was delivered last Friday (in a snowstorm, naturally).

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But then came the placement question. My bedroom — the back room of the garden floor of a brownstone — is huge, about 300 square feet, but oddly shaped, with several nooks and niches. I had originally intended the credenza to go in the niche next to the closet, where it would fit snugly. But the queen size bed had been tucked in there, above, and in order to put the [extremely heavy] credenza in that  niche, where I knew it would look good, I would have to move the bed to the only possible other wall, since the others are either not long enough or have doors on them (one to the living room, one to the garden).

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In the meantime, I had the movers put the credenza temporarily along that other wall, above, where it looked lost in space.

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The main problem — and I’m not kidding about this — is that there’s a massive ceiling beam running across the room — a wide, heavy I-beam, above — that would bisect the bed, lengthwise, along that only possible other wall. Ceiling beams above the bed, according to my internet research, are nothing less than a feng shui nightmare. “Beams carry a tremendous load,” says one much-reproduced tract, “and this pressure is focused into the beams generating chi which continues downwards, placing direct pressure on you while you sleep.” This can be debilitating and cause physical problems, says Denise Lynn in Sacred Space: Clearing and Enhancing the Energy of Your Home, one of the feng shui reference books I plucked off my shelf. Terrifying, isn’t it?

What to do, what to do? Fortunately, there are some recommended ‘cures’:

  • paint the beams (the beam is already painted, whew)
  • drape fabric over the beams (I’m not going for a harem look, really)
  • hang bamboo flutes 2-3 inches below the beam at a 45-degree angle,with the mouthpiece downwards, to “soften the load”
I went on to read more feng shui advice for the bedroom:
  • place your bed in “the king’s position”where you can see the doorway (I can see one of the two)
  • don’t place your headboard on the same wall as the incoming door to your bedroom (same wall, different plane, because the wall jogs – don’t know if that’s a mitigating factor)
  • make sure when you lay in bed that you can see the incoming flow of energy when someone enters your bedroom (no one is entering my bedroom unless I know about it) — otherwise, you will miss new opportunities in your career or that great partner that you wanted to meet, because you don’t “see” the energy at night coming to you (guess I’ll have to take my chances) and you won’t be in control of your life (who is?)
  • if you can’t change your bed to another wall, place a small mirror opposite the door so that when you open your eyes you can see the doorway in the mirror (that I can and will do, pronto)

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A Brooklyn brownstone doesn’t lend itself naturally to feng shui principles, I’ve decided. Yesterday I took it upon myself, with the help of plastic coasters as sliders, a couple of bathmats, and sheer determination, to move the credenza into the desired niche, and the bed to the wall under the ceiling beam, above, where I slept very well last night, thank you.

Still, anyone know where I can get some bamboo flutes?

My Bedroom Wall Color Revealed!

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FOR THOSE WHO THOUGHT I might never make a decision about what color to paint the bedroom in my Prospect Heights garden floor-through (and I admit I was among those who thought it), I’m relieved to report that the day after Christmas, I made a supreme effort and slathered two — in some spots, three — coats of Pratt & Lambert’s Pale Carnelian on two walls of the room.

Turns out to be a true orange, clear and bright, though it’s hardly pale anything — if I had to name it, it might be Sunkist with a Vengeance. Thanks to everyone who made thoughtful and well-considered paint-color suggestions. I tried a few of them, but after sampling 10 colors, I really had to stop.

Here’s what that wall looked like before:

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Since that back wall has two different-sized windows plus a door leading to the garden, the orange was intended to a) tie the wall together visually, b) provide a glimpse of color through the door from the living room, and c) generally cheer things up. Then I painted the ‘fireplace wall,’ below at left, or what was once the kitchen hearth wall in Brooklyn row houses of the 19th century. Now it’s just a jog in the wall, and I went with color there as well because it seemed to be a good place for it.

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The rest of the walls will remain white. The orange is intense, and I want the wall opposite the north-facing, under-deck windows to reflect every possible ray of light.

Now I’m on to the remaining pieces for the bedroom. The main item on my list is an armoire or credenza to house family pictures, children’s art work, and other precious heirlooms that cannot all be displayed but must be saved for posterity. I’ve been shopping online and in person. There’s an alcove 78″ wide, so something long and low would be good — it could double as a TV stand.

I would enjoy something like this sculptural ’60s number (the pictures below are from Apartment Therapy’s ‘New York Scavenger’ classifieds section). I’ve heard tell of these appearing three times recently, so they must be around, but they get snapped up quickly for about $800.

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More banal mid-century credenzas are a dime a dozen, in the $300-500 range. I could live with something like this if I had to:

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That, plus a white shag rug from IKEA and bamboo blinds from Pearl River, and my bedroom will be good to go.

Color Quandary

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OK, IT’S NOT A LIFE-ALTERING DECISION, but I’m surprisingly perplexed about what to do re the paint color for my bedroom walls. Me, the expert who successfully chose colors sight unseen for the living room and bathroom, below, when my landlords offered to paint any color I wanted before I moved into my new pied-a-terre, a brownstone garden floor-through in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, last month (that’s right, it’s not an apartment, it’s a pied-a-terre, and I’m gonna keep saying it.)

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Benjamin Moore’s Dalila in the living room, above, and Ben Moore’s Tropicana Cabana in the bathroom, below

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For the bedroom, I had been thinking red/orange, and I’ve now spent about $100 trying 9 samples from 4 different paint companies:

  • Benjamin Moore. I started out with 3 wimpy pale pinks that are definitely not me; moved on to Coral Gables, more assertive but still too pink; then tried Poppy, an overly aggressive red I couldn’t possibly live with on a daily basis.
  • Ralph Lauren. Hot Orange, way too dark; Mesa Sunrise, a maybe.
  • Farrow & Ball. Orangery, which is more like yellow ochre. No.
  • Pratt & Lambert. Pale Carnelian — love it for a chair, not a room.

All this has required several trips to Pintchick, one to deepest Brooklyn (Eastern Paint on Flatbush Avenue is the only Brooklyn store that carries the full line of Ralph Lauren paints), 2 trips into Manhattan (one to Saifee in the East Village which also carries RL, and another to London Paints in Chelsea for the Farrow & Ball).

See what I’m up against in the bedroom, below?

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I’ve looked at my sample patches in every kind of natural light from dim to dark (it’s a north-facing bedroom under a deck, above), as well as artificial. Not one of my samples is calling out to me as the right color.

These are among the considerations:

  • I want something to brighten the room and make it less dreary
  • The paint mustn’t be too dark. Not only is the room already dark, it’s unfair to my landlords (as a landlord myself, I’m always pissed when I give people permission to paint whatever color they choose, and they choose deep purple)
  • It has to work with the sunflower yellow living room, as the door between the rooms is almost always open
  • It has to make me happy, lift my spirits, and envelop me with a sense of well-being, constantly

Tall order for a can of paint? Well, yes…hence the quandary.

My friend Debre thinks I should just keep going in this vein, use up all my samples for a kind of crazy quilt effect. No, my dear, I’m not doing that. Meanwhile, time’s a-fleeting. I’m already in the second month of a one-year lease (though I hope to stay much longer).

I’ve got to choose something, and soon. Maybe a nice blue or green?